Photoshop CS5 Top 5: Refining Your Masks

One of the most common questions I hear from Photoshop users is, how do I extract people from one background and set them against another, with all their hair intact? Having written a book and recorded more than 50 hours of video on that very topic, I can assure you, there are lots of ways to do it. And it all starts with creating an accurate mask.

Photoshop offers lots of masking options. But they’re not what Adobe likes to call “discoverable.” In other words, there’s no way in hell you’d figured out how to mask hair—using such unhair-sounding features as alpha channels, Calculations, and Overlay painting—unless a guy like me showed you how to do it.

Enter Photoshop CS5’s revamped Refine Edge command (variously known as Refine Mask) that can grow a selection or layer mask into tendrils of hair and even get rid of the fridges of color around the edges so the hair looks right against a different background.

I’m not sure CS5’s enhancement is any more discoverable than the dozen or so other masking options hidden throughout the software. I mean, c’mon, who among us equates “hair” with “Refine Edge”? (Oh wait, I know—no one!) But whatever you think of the name, the new and improved Refine Edge command lets you perfect your masks with a significantly higher degree of control than you’ve had in the past.

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  • I have lost much sleep and hair,...

    ...spent innumerable hours and shed countless tears trying to divest my images of green-screen fringing.

    This one feature alone would make a PS5 upgrade a consideration if I knew it would make my labors worthwhile.


    “Thanks again, for another day full of something that I

    just can’t put my finger on.”—Kim Knoche

  • I love how your base

    I love how your base selection is done through Color Range. I’ve seen this feature demoed at least on 10 different sites now and they all start out with the magic wand or the quick selection tool. :D Way to go. Great feature and great demonstration.


    P.S.: I’m new around here, just signed up, so hi everyone :) Great to be here.

    My photography -

  • Re - lost sleep and hair…

    For jude and all,

    The upgrade is worth it for this feature almost alone. I just used it to successfully, and on the first try, extract some flowers from their background. It used to take upwards of 1/2 hour to get rid of the edge artifacts and miscellaneous bits. Using Deke’s process took about 5 minutes on the first pass. The second one was better and quicker.

    I had no choice in the upgrade, but this feature made it worthwhile. Happy wife, happy customers, more time for me…


  • collateral learning

    Although I’m using CS4 and this lesson was about Refining your Masks I picked up a “Priceless” tip for my use of the Smudge Tool. It has now become as useful as the Eraser Tool when re-purposing imagery. Thanks Deke

  • refine mask

    Your video on refining masks is the best I seen!  Thanks…..

  • Extracting Hair

    I watched your video on extracting hair with interest. Whilst your sample works reasonably well, being originally on a blue background and the the new background inserted is also blue, I would like to see you do a perfect job with the same picture, but replace the background with a rich colour complementary to blue, eg say red or yellow, so that any blue decontamination will stick out like a sore thumb.
    If you can show me a perfect result, I will accept that the new refine edge tool is an improvement over any existing methods of extracting hair.

    Ta Hans

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